This album has long been a tantalising prospect. Since her previous LP, 2014’s punk-inflected ‘Sucker’, Charli XCX has taken a turn for the avant-pop, releasing a string of experimental EPs and mixtapes that saw her fuse pop with woozy electronics and future-facing, crunchy production.
In 2016, she released ‘Vroom Vroom’, the chaotic four-track EP produced by PC Music-affiliated producer SOPHIE, which blended noisy synths with kinetic beats – and saw Charli totally reinvent herself. The ‘Number 1 Angel’ mixtape, a collaboration with PC Music founder and producer A. G. Cook (who also executively produced ‘Charli’), was full of dreamy electronics, trap beats and autotuned vocals. And there was the outstanding, exciting ‘Pop 2’.
Through these projects she’s been able to boldly experiment, switching up her sound to create a collection of genre-splicing releases that retain a pop core. And it feels like ‘Charli’, XCX’s third studio album, stands as the results of these years of experimentation.
‘Charli’ is an excellent pop album full of fizzing hooks. She’s pushed pop to its limits with cacophonous production and unconventional writing, but has never the belting choruses that are catchy enough to bellow out in a club. She’s collaborated with pop’s most electrifying new heroes – Lizzo, Troye Sivan, Christine and the Queens – as well as indie legends – Sky Ferreira, Haim – and rising stars – Clairo, Yaeji – with each artist’s distinctive style intact.
Christine and the Queens duet ‘Gone’ is a shimmering cut, with the pair trading vocals over glittering synths and a booming bassline, combining Christine’s warm funk tendencies with Charli’s icy vocals. ‘Click’, which features previous collaborators Kim Petras and Tommy Cash, is a wild blur of trickling synths and revving production, which feels like a follow-up to her 2016 tune ‘Trophy’. Meanwhile the Haim team-up ‘Warm’ and Lizzo collab ‘Blame If On Your Love’ blend tropical beats with warm vocals and huge sing-a-long melodies.
Though it could be said that ‘Charli’ relies on collaborations, there’s more than enough here to suggest that the link-ups only support a record that stands up on its own merits. The pounding ‘Silver Cross’ is set to be a staple in her live sets, with its euphoric production that climaxes in a huge, rave inducing chorus. And she can strip it back, too, with ballad ‘Official’ a sweet ode to making things concrete with a new partner.
In the past it felt as though Charli was pushed in certain directions to enhance her clout in the pop game. ‘Charli’, though, sees her at her most comfortable and genuine; everything feels authentically her. Bold, brash and brilliant, this is Charli XCX at her most genuine, and it’s dazzling.